Office of the future: A new world of work

Theorists and so-called technical evangelists everywhere are fond of cogitating over the possible features we might find in the office of the future. From ringtones to robots, everything could be about to change. Here the Windows team gazes into its crystal ball of office equipment and gets ready to throw away their old staplers and paper clips once and for all.

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By  Adrian Bridgwater Published  May 17, 2008

Theorists and so-called technical evangelists everywhere are fond of cogitating over the possible features we might find in the office of the future. From ringtones to robots, everything could be about to change.

Here the Windows team gazes into its crystal ball of office equipment and gets ready to throw away their old staplers and paper clips once and for all.

It's interesting and certainly thought provoking to try and produce some informed conjecture on the topic of future office environments.

Quite apart from it also being quite fun, it serves two purposes in that it allows us to think firstly about what we'd like to be possible - and then think about what is practically possible within the limits of the technology we have at hand and can see or envisage on future roadmaps.

IBM takes a similar approach to its own in house research and development (R&D) practice. First there's the ‘blue-sky-thinking way-out' team or, if you prefer, the ‘pure' research strand: these are the guys with the wacky haircuts who take a no boundaries approach to forward thinking.

Then, there's the ‘empirical' team who have a better handle on what is truly possible: fairly wacky haircuts too, but these guys have the ability to put the brakes on and bring a project back down to earth so that it can actually see fulfillment.

If we take IBM's model to the Middle Eastern small office of the year 2020, then our two teams would, perhaps, produce the following ideas...

The ‘blue-sky-thinking way-out' team report details the following breakthroughs: temperature controlled desk seats, retinal eye scans for user log in, robots for coffee and cleaning duties, electrically powered screens that rise and up and down from the floor to form new ‘cubicles' as and when and where they are needed - and maybe even really accurate voice recognition software to take meeting notes and minutes down automatically.

In response, the slightly more stoic ‘empirical' teams says that the temperature controlled seats are a cute idea but not that new, the retina thing is definitely on the horizon, the employees can get their own coffee thank you very much (some things come down to cost after all), the cubicles suggestion obviously came after way too much coffee - and finally, you know what, on the voice recognition software, we're trying really hard, but in a region like the Middle East with so many international accents it's still going to be a hard one to accomplish.

Wired to go unwired

Looking at developments with our feet slightly more firmly planted on the ground, it is fairly evident that we are moving to a completely wireless small office. The use of technology such as Bluetooth has ensured that our keyboards, mice and who knows what next have become ‘unwired'.

If you - and please excuse the overused expression - think outside the box, then anything could be possible.

So think about just think how far it could go. The next stage could see us using RFID (radio frequency identifier) tags to a greater degree.

Consider this example: if all the food in your fridge at home was tagged with RFID information, then this could be recorded onto personal data cards that you carry in your wallet.

Then, as you get to your office the ‘reader' unit at work records a note of what foods you would have eaten most recently. This then communicates with the local sandwich shop, restaurant or food provider that you normally lunch with.

The cooks at the food end of this chain then know what you like to eat and what you might have had too much of recently.

They can they email you with sandwich options or restaurant offers based upon your most likely preferences - taking into account dietary needs based on whether you might be a Muslim or a Hindu or other of course.

You can then concentrate on your work in the knowledge that your lunch decisions have mostly been made for you! Productivity soars if this works, so would say the theorists.

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